on November 27, 1999
Too many Amazon reader reviews do little more than gush ('LOVED it! ' 'It was GREAT! ') or grouse ('the author is truly ignorent' -- embarrasing how often 'ignorant' is misspelled). Not too helpful. I want to give you something you can use. If you're interested in 'How to Learn Any Language,' you'd probably like to know the rubber-meets-the-road stuff. How does the author address the 'How' of his title? Mr. Farber outlines a 'multiple track attack' that has you pursuing your target language on several fronts. Here are the tools he wants you to get: a basic grammar text, a dictionary, a phrase book (such as those for tourists), a magazine or paper or simple book written in the target language, language tapes, blank tapes, and flash cards, including homemade ones. First step: Study patiently and well the first five chapters of your grammar. Mark anything you don't quite get; take your question to a native speaker if you can. Second step: You're ready to bring on the other tools. Continue with the grammar text, but now pick up the newspaper (or magazine or book) and read the first paragraph. Highlight the words you don't know, look them up, and make flash cards. You'll review the cards when you're on hold, waiting in line, etc. (Read the English side of the card first and think your way into the target language before you flip it over to confirm your answer.) A couple of days later, perhaps, move to paragraph two. You should now begin cherry-picking your way through the little phrase book and listening to your tapes. (Tip: The highly interactive Pimsleur sets are pricey but excellent; do an Amazon title search for 'Pimsleur' and your target language.) The phrase book will supply you with things that the grammar book won't. Don't just memorize these basic phrases and expressions. Plot a conversation and practice your responses. The tapes, if they're good, allow you to hear and imitate native speakers. By now you should be on chapter seven or eight of the grammar. And you should be looking for people to speak with. One chapter deals with clever mnemonic devices for memorizing new words. Example: I've remembered that 'kar lo' means 'he is cold' in Hebrew by imagining my friend Carlo shivering. The more far-fetched, the better, probably. All this seems to make good sense. Why limit yourself to one approach when you can more nearly approximate the total immersion method by drawing on a wealth of resources at hand?
on June 6, 2002
An easy, enlivening, and at times goofy read, this book should be the first reading assignment for high-school foreign language teachers who seek to inspire budding polyglots as well as for those who are embarking on a self-study foreign language program. Farber's `multiple track attack' emphasizes hitting your brain from multiple sources but in a systematic way to build both retentiveness and comfort with the new language. This book is written at a basic level and can be read in one sitting so don't expect too much in terms of technical details - it is more about developing simple and useful learning techniques and Farber's personal insights on language learning.
Amazon has lots of reviews of Farber's book so here are some added personal findings. The book was published in 1991 and needs to be updated to incorporate the use of computers in his `multiple track attack.' Farber is very much on the money in his high praise of Pimsleur tapes but if you purchase a Pimsleur course, even one which covers reading, be sure to augment this with good reading/vocabulary materials (the Pimsleur tapes are not accompanied by printed transcripts). Pimsleur's strong point is in developing a speaking proficiency more so than in teaching you grammer or how to read. If you plan on writing in a foreign language which doesn't use the Roman alphabet (e.g. Arabic, Japanese) you'll need to augment Farber's recommended repertoire with a book containing writing instruction. Chinese and Korean characters, for example, are written with a certain stroke order that you'll want to emulate from the very beginning before bad penmanship habits become entrenched. An enjoyable feature of this book is Farber's spin on individual languages (for example which languages are easy to learn, which are difficult, and why you should really master French if you plan on studying multiple languages).
Definitely recommended for anyone who plans on starting a self-study foreign language program.
on December 12, 2002
The Good - Farber gives a step-by-step process for learning any language. He provides a list of tools you will need such as grammar books, phrase books, tapes, flashcards and newspapers. You begin by studying the first five chapters of the grammar text, and then move on to studying materials used by native speakers such as magazines and newspapers. You read a paragraph and then underline and memorize all the words you don't know. You also learn phrases from your phrase book and practice pronunciation with tapes. He explains an excellent method to learn long lists of vocabulary words in a short amount of time. He also gives tips on how to fit language learning into your busy life.
The Bad - The book has not been updated recently, so there is no information on integrating software into your learning process. He does not present any methods for learning scripts. He does not present any information on how to learn syntax, so I had to come up with my own method of learning sentence structure. I also don't agree that newspapers and magazines are good learning materials for beginners. When I tried it I was learning words like parliament, political party and leadership when I still didn't know words like rain, sad and river. I found that children's books with a reading level of 7-11 were much more useful. He should have provided tables with lists of common nouns, verbs and adjectives. Considering that 60-70% of everyday language consists of 400-500 words, it would have been a good idea to include common word lists.
Having said this I wish I had bought this book before I started learning Bengali. I wasted a lot of time trying to learn without any method or plan. You can get a lot of ideas from Farber and then use his suggestions or modify them to suit yourself.
on May 25, 2005
Not counting the index this book is about 130 pages. The meat of it can be condensed to a few pages. The rest is basically the summary of the author's love of languages and his inflated ego.
Don't get me wrong he does offer some sound strategies and a way to direct your language efforts. I will give you what I found useful and you can decide to waste $10 if you want to.
First, realize there is no magic way to learn a language. You have to work at it and dedicate yourself. The author recommends a multi-prong approach to learning the language. Some of the materials he recommends you purchase are a introductory book to your target language, an audio program for target language, a two-way dictionary in the target language, a phrase book, and a magazine or newspaper in the target language.
He suggests doing the first 5 lessons in the introductory book to familiarize yourself in the language. Then start trying to read an article in the target language. Write down the words you don't understand and make flash cards. Use the audio tapes to listen to correct pronunciation and make flash cards of words. Also use the phrasebook to give vocabulary and make flash cards.
He does recommend using Pimsleur programs for the audio portion. I gave myself a crash course with Pimsleur German 1 and was able to make basic conversations within a few days.
He emphasizes practice of your language with whomever you can find speaks it.
Ok the book doesn't live up to the title. He does not address how to apply his memory techniques and self learning style to tonal languages like Thai. His close enough approach does not cut it with Thai. I live here and unless you say the word exactly you will just confuse whomever you are talking to. Also can't really dive into the reading and writing portions with anything but a roman alphabet.
One of his great bragging points is how he ordered food in Chinese and the Chinese waitress was so impressed that she ended up messing up his whole order. What most likely happened is that he spoke what he thought was Chinese but what was most likely jibberish. I don't know about anyone else but if someone speaks to me clearly in my native language I will not get flustered I will be very comfortable and would easily be able to respond.
The rest of the book reads like this. Little scenarios were it shows it is nice to know another language. Anyone that picked up this book would already realize this. We want substance not nostalgia.
on July 12, 2005
This book managed to keep my attention most of the way through, but with something akin to the fascination with which you watch a car crash.
To start with, let's be clear: this book will certainly not give you an in-depth methodology for language learning. As other reviewers have pointed out, the basic ideas can be summarised as follows: use many different methods concurrently, use any free moments you can find in a day to review new language, and speak the language in authentic situations whenever possible. That's it. It's an excellent approach, no doubt about that. However, the detail with which the book covers these ideas can fill maybe five pages at most. The rest is filled with the unsubtle bragging and anecdotes of an egotistical blowhard.
The book manages to be almost entirely aimed at Americans (are there no other language learners in the world?) and downright offensive in its stereotyping of cultures. It's also incredibly centred on European languages - Asian, African and other languages are all but ignored. Good luck finding anything useful in this book about learning non-Roman scripts or tonal languages. I am an English teacher and an African living in Japan, and to me the shortcomings of this book were staggering.
Perhaps most confusing for a novice learner is deciding which advice to follow - Farber contradicts himself throughout. He starts by stating that grammar shouldn't stand in the way of learning useful phrases immediately - but goes on to state that his high school teachers were right, learning grammar in the beginning is essential. He says to ignore claims of difficulties with a particular language's grammar, but reinforces these claims at every turn.
In short, a convoluted, muddled mess of a book - but entertaining in its own way and Farber's sheer enthusiasm can be infectious. If you require serious study aids rather than motivation, however, your money is better spent elsewhere.
on July 5, 2002
This little text is a wonderful inspiration to aspiring polyglots like myself. The book is full of the author's own experiences in falling in love with language and mastering some of the world's most difficult. He also presents his multi-track approach to starting a new language, mnemonics tips for memorization, and an overview of major world languages.
Farber's multi-track learning system is the highlight of the book. I haven't had a chance to put it to use yet, but it seems to be the most efficient and guaranteed way of learning a new language. This simple system is itself worth the cover price.
Farber also delves deeply into the scheme he uses for memorizing vocabulary. His method is based on mnemonics - associating foreign words with English phrases and amusing pictures. Unfortunately, some people (like me) simply don't find this method useful; for those with difficulty learning thousands of new words, however, it may be indispensable.
Where Farber really goes wrong is where pronunciation is involved. He completely glosses over the subject, making ridiculous claims like "there are only one or two sounds English doesn't have" and advises students to pronounce words in a way that is natural to the English tongue. What terrible advice! I don't know how Farber ever learned Chinese if he followed his own counsel. Having learned some myself, I can tell you that Chinese (for example) shares almost no common sounds with English, and that until one learns its phonology, one will not be understood. Even for a western language like French, very few phonemes are pronounced as in English. In this regard, I feel Farber is asking language students to build a house with straw instead of bricks. Once bad habits are ingrained, the whole structure will have to be torn down and rebuilt.
All in all, this book is a great tool for the language learner; but it is not without its flaws. Take it with a few grains of salt, and find out what works for you!
on April 1, 2003
If you're anything like me you are not good with languages. Or I should say "you think you're not good with languages" because if any book can turn that around, and change even how you perceive your own language abilities, then it's this book. I took 4 years of French in high school. Today I can't speak a word. Infact I never could - if you had parachuted me into France the moment I completed those four years I doubt I could have ordered dinner or asked my way to the local embassy. I always took this to mean that I was bad with languages. All that conjugating and repeating made my head hurt. However, this book presents a systematic approach for learning langauges no matter who you are.
The system is not particularly sophisticated. I won't go into great detail as an earlier reviewer has already done this but in a nutshell it is -
1) use everything you can get your hands on
2) make use of hidden moments - waiting for an elevator etc to learn another word
3) keep going
4) dive in - don't wait to know the entire language before using it
The author shows how to do this using a dictionary, a grammar book, flashcards, audio recordings. He also supplies his own story which is quite inspirational.
Some other reviewers have noted that it lacks suggestions on using modern technology like computer programs and the web. To that I say they missed the point. This book is not a stiff, inflexible approach - it is exactly the opposite, a list of possible tools and a method which can easily be extended to incorporate new technologies. Seriously, anyone can figure out how you can do the exercises he suggests you do with a print newspaper on a version on the internet...or how to use computer CDs in similar ways to how he says about audio programs and flash cards.
My own story having read this book - 4 years of high school French may have taught me nothing, but reading this book and applying the techniques for 18 months has taught me to converse in Spanish with complete ease. Maybe Mr Faber the author is right - given the right method, anyone can learn a second language.
on January 29, 2004
This book is a lot like a diet book -- everyone knows that to lose weight you have to eat better and exercise more. It takes hard work and there are no shortcuts to a healthier body.
In the same way, there are no true shortcuts to learning a language -- you must be exposed to the language as much as possible, you must learn grammar, and you have to make plenty of mistakes. Farber acknowledges the need for all of these, and gives a handy "cheat sheet" for grammar terms you'll need to know.
Outside of that, anyone who is truly committed to learning a language is probably already doing most of what Farber recommends, so there are no earth-shattering secrets in this book. Yet, it is a fun read. If you're thinking about learning a language, or are already trying to do so, Farber's anecdotes help remind you that it CAN be done. I loved reading about how he learned Chinese to spite his Latin teacher, and how he learned Hungarian out of necessity.
In short, buy this book for a quick, fun read, but don't expect miracles.
on January 31, 2002
I first picked up this book two months before I came here to Japan. That was ten years ago. Of the various books I've looked at that try to teach you how to learn a language, this one stands out from the rest for the sheer enthusiasm that Mr. Farber shares with the reader. His techniques are sound, and his recommendations are effective, but it's his expression of the sheer joy of learning languages that oozes out of every page of this book that gives it a permanent place on my shelf. Techniques are useful only as long as the motivation of the learner is strong. This book gives me a "boost to the head" every time I pick it up!
In fact I once found to my horror that I had somehow lost my copy, and I found myself rushing out and buying another one. (After which the first one of course showed up in plain sight...) So if I can have two copies, you should have at least one! (: Seriously though, I really recommend this book to everyone who has an urge or a need to learn a foreign language - no hesitation.
Someone once said that if you have a good enough "why" for what you do, you can deal with almost any "how." Faber gives you a book full of "whys," and a toybox full of pretty good "hows" while he's at it.
Now after ten years of Japanese, I'm beginning to look lustfully at Korean and Chinese... Somebody stop me...!
on May 30, 2002
Barry Farber has a great deal of wisdom and knowledge when it comes to language learning. He lays it out very clearly in this book, After reading it I was immediately inspired to learn as many languages as possible! Of course, I'm into languages anyway, so you might not be quite as energized by this as I was, but he details the benefits of language learning and addresses potential problems so accurately that I can't imagine someone reading this book and then saying honestly that they didn't really want to learn.
So why did I give it four stars instead of five? First of all, for a book that is largely about the importance of language, this contains a huge number of typos and generally sloppy editing that really annoyed me, although these mistakes didn't really detract much from the general message of the book. Secondly, Farber overuses metaphors and analogies; there are so many in each chapter that they were more distracting than helpful. Sentences like "I went through that Chinese book like a hot knife through butter" are fine once in awhile for imagery, but the author makes statements like this excessively and not always appropriately. This might not sound like such a big deal, but even by just the second chapter it was getting ridiculous.
Finally, it has been eleven very important years since "Learn Any Language" was first published, and it is in need of some sort of update. There is so much more that can be done now to learn a language through the Internet, software programs, and the like, but the book is too old to address any of that. Not to mention that as a 20-year-old college student, I find it almost laughably archaic when Farber refers to "the Soviets" or the Iron Curtain in a contemporary context.
Overall, "Learn Any Language" gives lots of useful advice, is a relatively quick read, and will probably prove very helpful to you in your language studies, no matter what your level. An updated and well-edited version would be still better, but I'm very satisfied with my purchase.